A quietly lingering rumor in the NFL discourse is that the 49ers could wind up keeping Jimmy Garoppolo for the 2022 season, giving Trey Lance another year to ride the bench and develop as the backup. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, the person most qualified to address this idea, was asked about it in a press conference Wednesday.
While Shanahan didn’t rule out Garoppolo’s return, he stood behind Lance as the team’s quarterback of the future.
“I think there’s a chance for anything, but I think we made it pretty clear that Trey is our guy of the future, whenever that’ll happen,” Shanahan said. “But it was also nothing against Jimmy that we took him, but we do believe Trey will be our guy of the future. And like I said, I think it’ll be really hard if Jimmy’s on it for him to beat them out right away. So it is kind of going like that right now and I’m not thinking much past that.”
This is a tough needle for Shanahan to thread because he’s still trying to win games with Garoppolo this season. Outright slamming the door publicly on his chances to return could adversely impact the team’s chances to win in 2021. So Shanahan is required to keep that door open in press conferences regardless of the actual chance the veteran returns next year.
In reality Shanahan closed the door on a Garoppolo return when he okayed the trade up from No. 12 to No. 3 in this year’s draft and mortgaged two future first-round picks to do so. If there was a chance Garoppolo could regain the franchise quarterback mantle, the 49ers would’ve operated differently in the offseason.
They might’ve stayed at No. 12 and drafted a quarterback who fell. They could’ve waited until Round 2 or 3 to take on a project who could be the backup and maybe turn into something down the road.
Instead they emptied the clip to jump up for Lance. He’s the quarterback of the future almost regardless of what Garoppolo does the rest of the way. The qualifier is necessary in case of some unforeseen leap for Garoppolo over the final seven games and the playoffs where he becomes something he’s never been in the NFL. A three-month string of top-five quarterback play might be enough to get him another season.
That string of play doesn’t appear to be coming from No. 10 though. His numbers over the 49ers’ last four games have been really good, but the question remains whether he can do that consistently. The question also remains about the 49ers’ offense in a game where their defense isn’t on point and the rushing attack isn’t effective. That is the biggest, most important question facing the coaching staff in regards to the quarterback position. Garoppolo is a player the 49ers can win with.
They’re looking for a player they know they will win with. They want a player that doesn’t need the defense to be perfect and the run game to be good. They want a player who can overcome a turnover or two. We’re 40 games into Garoppolo’s tenure and he’s never shown to consistently be the quarterback they will win with when the run game and defense aren’t playing at a high level.
The door on a Garoppolo return was closed and locked when the 49ers traded up and drafted Lance. Shanahan isn’t throwing away the key to that door just yet, but it’s going to take a dramatic shift from Garoppolo over the next seven games and the playoffs to make him think about unlocking it.
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